Political and moral philosophy are related to economics, and even less stealthily to the older political economy. The economist cannot recommend a government policy without making or accepting a value judgment consistent with who is going to be helped and who will be harmed. At least, he must believe that the policy falls within the ethically acceptable functions of government.

Some of the great economists of our time have also been great political philosophers. I am especially thinking of Friedrich Hayek, James Buchanan, and Anthony de Jasay. The latter is not as well known as the two others, both Nobel laureates and members of the academic corporation, but I believe he was as important a thinker—albeit a more radically dissenting one.

De Jasay defined himself as both a (classical) liberal and an anarchist. On Econlib, I very recently reviewed his 1997 book Against Politics: On Government, Anarchy, and Order. A quote from my review explains its title, “Princess Mathilde and the Immorality of Politics”:

Princess Mathilde, a niece of Napoléon Bonaparte, expressed a hedonistic-egoistic view of the state when she defended her late uncle by saying that, “without that man I should be selling oranges on the wharf in Marseilles.” Government, de Jasay argues, is essentially a redistribution mechanism, which some, like Princess Mathilde, use very effectively for their own purposes. Politics helps some to the detriment of others. This, he explains, is as true, or even truer, in a democratic system, where the majority defines what is the “common good” or “public interest.”

Glued to the zeitgeist of our time, most people will reject this thesis (I propose some criticism myself). But it is not possible to rationally reject it without first understanding it. This book is a good way to do this. As a collection of articles, it does not have the unity of de Jasay’s 1985 book The State but, on the other hand, it offers a choice between more and less technical discussions.

Many of the chapters are a must-read. De Jasay provides interesting critiques of both Buchanan and Hayek. I conclude my review:

Yet, Against Politics is a must-read for any political philosopher as well as for any economist interested in the philosophical implications of what he or she is doing. The book may become even more urgent for our descendants to read.


DALL-E’s rather creative vision of Princess Mathilde, with your humble blogger responsible for the orange:

DALL-E rather creative interpretation of Princess Mathilde (PL helped with the orange) from an 1861 portrait by Édouard Dubufe